Strategy.
Automation. Funnels.
Copy.
Visuals and programming.
Open and Click Through Rates.

Email marketing is a big topic with a lot of moving parts. To break down the process of email marketing and set your brand up for success at every step of the way, this is the first post of an email marketing series.

Today we’ll start with the basics: what makes up an email?

Below are the nine elements of a killer email, as well as examples of the best of the best in action.

1. Write a killer subject line

The subject line of your email has power, and these stats show just how much: 33% open an email based on subject line alone, while 69% of recipients report an email based on subject line. It’s your first impression with your reader, and influences whether or not they decide to open your email.

Digital Marketer sent more than 100 million emails in 2016, and they’ve outlined their top ones here.

Here are a few examples from their post that caught our eye. These all do a great job of making a reader feel some serious FOMO if they don’t open the email – on either a good deal, or a good story.

“Steal these email templates”
Hinting at a free download or exclusive offer is enticing, but this subject line has an interesting twist. It must be a great email template if I would want to steal it.
“[RANT] Why I HATE Business Cards”
This subject line surely comes with a juicy story. What inspired such contempt of business cards?
“The Ad Grid: 20X Your Success Rate”
We all want to improve our marketing performance, so the chance of learning a way not to double, not triple, but times our success rate by twenty is definitely eye-catching.

2. Don’t forget to leverage pre-header text

In addition to your subject line, the “pre-header text” is another opportunity to entice a subscriber to open your email. This text shows up below the subject line before someone has opened your email. It’s a small snippet of writing, but one experiment found that including pre-header text, as opposed to none at all, resulted in a 30% improvement in open rates. Your subject line may snag a reader’s attention, but the pre-header text is the opportunity to add context to the subject and convince them to click.

Without pre-header text, you risk a reader losing interest before they even click because there simply isn’t enough of a reason to take the time and check the email out. For example, this email missed an opportunity to add context to what should be an intriguing email.

no pre-header text

No pre-header text

Great pre-header text should add to the subject line, not repeat it. Include a personalized message, add incentive to the deal, or elaborate on the subject line like in the example below.

Priceline pre-header text example

Priceline pre-header text example

3. Create a sender name your readers will recognize

The final way a subscriber can judge their interest in an email before even opening it is the sender name. This “from” section of the email is relevant, since 68% of Americans base their decision to open an email on the sender’s name.

The sender name not only provides context to an unread email, but it also established trust, credibility, and a personal connection. Avoid sending emails from “no-reply” addresses whenever possible.

Another good rule of thumb: make sure it’s recognizable. A reader likely won’t remember your founder’s first name, but they’ll remember the brand name they signed up with.

In the example below, Oilstop makes the sender name more personal by saying “Your friends at Oilstop”.

Email from your friends at OilStop

Email from your friends at OilStop

Modified sender names can also be used for different segments of your list or by email content. The New York Times differentiates between regular emails and breaking news alerts, whereas TechSmith has a unique sender name for their account services support.

NYT different sender names

NYT different sender names

Techsmith different sender names

Techsmith different sender names

4. Personalization is the name of the game

As a consumer yourself, you understand the power of an email that feels tailored to your specific interests. According to Kiss Metrics, some markets have noted a 760% increase in revenue from segmented campaigns.

One example is a review of a customer’s activity with your company. Below, UBER sends a “Year in Review” email and Withings lets a user know when they’ve hit a milestone.

Smiles Davis's year with Uber

Smiles Davis’s year with Uber

 

Personalized email from Withings

Personalized email from Withings

Product recommendations based on past activity creates a great brand experience. Hawaiian Air, below, engages with customers with a birthday message.

Birthday message from Hawaiian Air

Birthday message from Hawaiian Air

5. Great copy gets to the point

Copy is the heart of the email. How do you convey your message in an easy-to-read and engaging way? What is the point of this email, and what do I want it to accomplish? Here are a few ways to make sure you’re packing a punch with your copy.

Make your writing easy to scan

Think about how many emails you receive in a day. Most people simply don’t have the time, attention, or desire to meticulously read every word. Make it easy to skim with concise headers and bullet points that helps readers take aways key ideas, and fast. Evernote does a great job below.

Evernote email copy example

Evernote email copy example

Use friendly and succinct copy

Webflow is a great example of how simple messages can still be powerful.

Webflow email copy

Webflow email copy

Align your CTAs and copy

Your email copy and call to action buttons should work together to motivate readers to take action. In the email below, Komoot does a great job of keeping the critical information at the top of the email as well as tying together the text and CTA buttons.

Komoot email copy example

Komoot email copy example

6. Drive action with a clear CTA

Including a call to action in your marketing emails drives users to the next step and keeps them engaged. While it’s good to have a call to action link in your emails, a button is actually better. In fact, using a CTA button in place of a plain text link can increase conversion rates by 28%.

Shutterstock’s email below actually has six different call to action buttons, allowing them to monitor what topics each reader is most interested in based on which button they click. The main CTA buttons are an attention-grabbing red color and are placed prominently at the top and bottom of the email.

Shutterstock email with CTA

Shutterstock email with CTA

Birchbox proves that buttons don’t have to be red to stand out. Their black-on-white scheme makes just as much of an impact and aligns with their brand. Bonus points for a CTA that gets right to the heart of what customers want – to save money.

Birchbox CTA example

Birchbox CTA example

7. Help readers stay connected with you through social share buttons

Social share buttons help readers stay connected across all of your channels. You won’t necessarily call attention to your social accounts in each email, but they are helpful when added to the footer like Tailor Brands.

Tailor Brands uses social share buttons

Tailor Brands uses social share buttons

8. Use the unsubscribe button to your advantage

Not only are unsubscribe links in emails required by law, but they’re also useful for maintaining an active list of subscribers.

While focusing on increasing the number of subscribers to your list is a good goal, it’s good practice to remove individuals from your list that haven’t opened emails or engaged with your content in a while.

Sidekick lets a subscriber know that they’ve noticed the reader hasn’t recently engaged with their emails. The company then adds a message about how they don’t want to contribute to unnecessary email clutter, and that they will be removing the subscriber from their list. Then there’s a nice, big, CTA button for users who aren’t ready to leave yet.

Sidekick unsubscribe example

Sidekick unsubscribe example

9. Tie everything together with visuals

Just like your subject line, pre-header text, and call to action buttons, the visuals of an email can help tie everything together.

In this email from Trulia there’s only a single image, but it tells the same story as the rest of the email: choose between this or that.

Trulia's this-or-that email

Trulia’s this-or-that email

Ink and Attitude takes a design approach that is similar to Instagram and lays out visual inspiration paired with unique call to action buttons that read “get edgy” and “live free.”

Ink and Attitude visual email example

Ink and Attitude visual email example

Illustria uses animation to entertain customers, while Foursquare used a quirky gif to support their message.

Illustria's email animation

Illustria’s email animation

Foursquare-animation

Foursquare-animation

Bonus: Optimize for Mobile

With a little over half of all email now being opened on a mobile device, it’s safe to say having a mobile-optimized design is essential. Campaign Monitor created the example below that features a mobile-optimized design on the left, with a non-responsive design on the right. If your email is not optimized for mobile devices, you run the risk of the content appearing too large or too small for the screen.

Comparison of mobile friendly emails

Comparison of mobile friendly emails

Now that we’ve covered the essential elements that every successful email needs, we should address the question: What does successful mean?

The primary metrics emails are measured by are:

Open Rate: the percentage of times a particular email was opened. Compare open rates across segments and time to understand performance.
Click-Through Rate: How many took the action you intended and clicked through to an additional piece of content? This percentage is the click-through rate, and is also useful when compared.
Hard Bounces: your email is ineffective if it never makes it to a reader’s inbox, and hard bounce rates let you know how many emails out of a hundred are being sent to email addresses that no longer exist. Let these contacts go.

Increases and decreases in email metrics should be examined on a company-by-company basis, but there are also industry benchmark stats you can use.

Next week we’ll be taking a deeper look into subject line best practices. Stay tuned!